“Ok ok, what story could you possibly have that you haven’t told us?”
That’s what you’re all thinking right? Well, this is the story of all stories and not a happy story at that, so if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, this is not it. Though I guess this story does have a happy ending or a somewhat (I hope) positive message.
“So Ashley, what is this story about? What could you still possibly have to tell us that you haven’t posted before on this blog or on some type of social media?”
Well guys, this is the story of my battle with an eating disorder. Bulimia to be exact. Don’t believe me, just take a closer look at my chipped, acid ruined teeth.
Let’s take a quick step back here. Why am I choosing to share this now, and why haven’t I talked about this before? For me, having battled an eating disorder almost ended me. It trapped me in a dark world, without an exit. I lost myself. I honestly thought I was never going to get back to normality. I also never thought I was sick enough or skinny enough for anyone to believe I had an eating disorder. In my mind I wanted to get ‘as sick’ as I possibly could so I could get better (as twisted as that sounds). I wanted to be the kind of skinny, that no one would have to question if I was suffering from an eating disorder, they would just know by looking at me. The thing with bulimia that most people don’t know, is that you don’t always get emaciated. Sometimes you even end up gaining weight.
Bulimia was a lot easier for me to fall into that I thought. For starters, bulimia and self-injury often go hand in hand. They are both about the ability to control something in your life. Self-injury you are controlling what you feel and when. Bulimia you are controlling your food intake and outtake. I also had the added pressure to be skinny, as I was working as a professional dancer at the time in Mexico and in my head purging my food was the answer to these pressures. On top of it all, I was in a foreign country, alone, where I could literally do whatever I wanted, with no one to really monitor what or how I was doing.
I don’t remember why I did it for the first time. I don’t remember how I got the idea to do it and I don’t remember how I got to that place. I do remember crying after my first purge because I was so happy that I had found a way to eat as much as I wanted and still ‘stay skinny’.
There are things you will never forget in live. The things people say. Past events. You remember the good things, but you also remember the bad things. I remember people making comments. About my size, about how much I ate, or didn’t eat. I remember skipping meals so I could eat a cookie. I remember spending hours in front of the mirror, picking out my own flaws, pinching the fat on my hips until I got bruises. To this day I can’t look some people in the eyes, because I expect them to be picking out my flaws and not actually looking me in the eyes.
I used to blame my eating disorder on the pressures around me, but it was so much more than that. This disorder was deeprooted and rotted my mental state. On this blog (where the writing above came from), I blamed my love for dance and my past dance teachers, I blame comments from outsiders and I blame pressures from society. Not until the most recently did I realize that it was connected to the trauma I had endured growing up with an addiction ridden parent and having the sense of no control over this.
When I returned home from Mexico after my first nine months of working, I thought I had left my time with an eating disorder there. I thought it was that simple. Little did I know, that being home was an even bigger trigger than being in Mexico. Addiction still haunted my house and now I felt guilty for leaving my sister there to fend for herself, without me. In my eyes, I had been the target while growing up. I was the teenager that drank too much with friends, that stayed out past curfew and did all those bad things that teenagers do. When I moved to Mexico, my sister was the new target and when I got home, I could see what that had done to her.
After a summer of hatred towards myself, I chose to go back to Mexico instead of enrolling in University. I couldn’t wait to go back to see my friends, to get to dance everyday and even better, to indulge in ED. All I could think about was getting to go back to my old habits and getting ‘skinny’ again. I wanted to spend 6 months getting into amazing shape so I could come home to my boyfriend and my friends and show them how beautiful and skinny I could be.
Returning to Mexico was probably the biggest regret I will ever have, and the only regret I will ever have.
When I got back to Mexico it was different. The people were different. My job as a dancer felt different. People came to work every day dreading it, which made me dread it. The positive spirit I had remembered was gone. I remember getting there, being excited to get back to dancing and I was shot down. The competition between dancers was even bigger now. The pressure to lose weight was higher than I remembered. It got to the point where the choreographer would sit me down and tell me I had to lose weight.
The final three months I spent living in Mexico was definitely the worst times I had suffering from bulimia. I literally woke up every morning to binge and purge. Work was on the back burner during this time. Dancing was easy and mindless for me. By this time I knew all the secrets of bulimia, what I could eat and easily purge up, how to time everything out perfectly and how to do this all without any of my roommates ever hearing or knowing. The only thing I hadn’t realized (or chose not to see), was that I was actually gaining weight and not losing. This weight gain brought a lot of unwanted attention to me from my bosses, like I mentioned above. I remember the exact comment that pushed me over the edge and that was enough to send me spiralling.
I went into a dark hole. The only time I would leave my house after this point was to go to practice in the mornings, to eat in the staff kitchen or to go to the grocery store. Every day I would wake up at 6am to go get coffee, buns, donuts and other pastries from the staff kitchen. Bring them back to my house eat them all, plus a few bowls of cereal and purge it all up while I showered before work. On my way to work I would walk across the street, buy a sandwich, some chocolate and a yogurt drink. I would eat and drink these things during practice. I convinced myself that since I ate them in practice I would burn off the calories of the food, so I didn’t have to purge them up. After practice I would eat with the other dancers and sneak desserts and other food back to my house. Before eating this stolen food, I would walk across the street buy a couple more sandwiches, ice cream and chocolate bars. I spent my afternoon binging and purging, watching reruns of English shows with Spanish subtitles and sending my long distant boyfriend sad, depressing texts about how much I hated it in Mexico and how much I wanted to come home. I continued to gain weight which provoked my boss to pressure me eat healthier, go to the gym more often and lose weight. This only made me binge and purge more. I would chew up to 10 packs of gum a day, trying to distract myself from binging and purging. At this point I was binging and purging 5-6 times a day.
If you’re reading this and can take anything out of my story, it would be to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak or broken if anything it shows your strength. I wish when I returned from Mexico, I would have asked for help. I wish I would have opened up about what I had been putting myself through. But I didn’t. I went back to wearing my fake mask I had put on the last time I returned from Mexico, telling everyone about what an amazing time I had while living there.
This disease cost me a lot of friendships and relationships. I pushed anyone close to me away. I let depression take over me at this time, and I drowned myself in work and school. I wasn’t able to look people in the eye, because all my brain could do was think about how they were looking at my flaws or judging my imperfections.
It wasn’t until the following year that I began to purge and binge again. Which is a weird coincidence because it was also the last time I put a razor to my skin. I figured out how I could throw up at home without my parents catching me. Binging and purging in the basement after they went to bed and hiding the evidence.
It’s funny because now, looking back, I have no idea how long it’s been since I last binged and purged. It got to the point for me that I understood it wasn’t so much about the actions, it was more about the abuse I was putting myself through. About all the hate I felt towards myself and all the blame I carried. After I got myself out of the routine of binging and purging daily, I started working on loving myself again. For me, sharing my story of self-injury really helped me. Finishing school and achieving something that at one point I didn’t think I could do helped. Realizing that no one is perfect and I don’t need to perfect. These are all things that helped me let go of this disease that was trying so hard to hold on.
There are plenty of parts I’ve left out of this story, parts that I originally wrote in my anonymous post, that I no longer see a need to write about. My original post, like I said, was full of blame I put on the wrong people. It was written in a way that made it seem like I was trying to convince someone about how sick I was, and I wanted sympathy from the anonymous people that read it. But the truth is, I don’t need sympathy and I don’t need reassurance that I was “sick enough”. These were all tricks that kept me trapped in this disease.
Eating disorders are a tricky thing. They’re not like other addictions where you can cut the addictive substance out of your life. Food is something you need to survive. I couldn’t take food away to stop myself from binging and purging. I needed to figure out, why I was doing this to myself. I needed to understand it was more than just to look a certain way, it was about forgiving myself and letting go of a lot of things I was holding onto.
I wanted to write this post because I want to hopefully help at least one person who reads it. I was in the darkest of all dark places. I didn’t believe that I could ever have a healthy relationship with food or with my body. I was at the point where I had written suicide letters to all my family and loved ones. And you know what? I came back from that dark time in my life and you can too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I promise you that will be one of the hardest steps, but you will not regret it.
All the love,